The English Cottage Garden

The classic look of a beautiful English cottage garden.
The classic look of a beautiful English cottage garden. | Source

What is a cottage garden?

The traditional cottage garden began in England centuries ago. Today, it's a garden where the flowers and herbs look as if they are placed in random fashion. However, this effect produces a beautiful arrangement of colour, scent and form. The garden is usually planted using traditional materials and plants, with dense coverage of the ground. Many also have lovely meandering paths with benches, flower covered arches, small fountains and other ornaments that are tucked away in secret little corners.

However, in the past the original cottage gardens were planned and used for different reasons.

Lavender is still a popular choice for cottage gardens and was one of the original herbs to be used.
Lavender is still a popular choice for cottage gardens and was one of the original herbs to be used. | Source

The original cottage gardens

The original cottage gardens were not used to look or smell nice. They were planned specifically as a resource for the home and family.

Because these gardens began in working people's cottages obviously there was very little space. Every inch available was used to plant herbs, fruit trees, vegetables and medicinal flowers. In addition, since cottage gardens would often have bee hives, then flowers that attracted honey bees would also be used. With the result that flowers, herbs, shrubs and trees grew into one another ensuring that all available space was covered. This was the beginnings of the cottage garden.

What is also interesting is that many of the plants chosen had folklore and long held beliefs applied to them, so giving the cottage garden greater significance.

The Foxglove is one of the most popular of cottage garden flowers. It also has a lot of interesting properties and folklore. This species is Digitalis purpurea where the heart drug Digoxin comes from.
The Foxglove is one of the most popular of cottage garden flowers. It also has a lot of interesting properties and folklore. This species is Digitalis purpurea where the heart drug Digoxin comes from. | Source
Aquilegia caerulea - one of the many species of the beautiful Colombine flower. A lovely addition to any cottage garden.
Aquilegia caerulea - one of the many species of the beautiful Colombine flower. A lovely addition to any cottage garden. | Source

Choice of flowers

If you were planning a cottage garden what would be your most important consideration

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English Lavender - not just a favourite in cottage gardens.
English Lavender - not just a favourite in cottage gardens. | Source

Folklore and uses for herbs and flowers

To write about all the flowers that you can use in a cottage garden would need a full book, so I've Chosen three that are traditional to the very early cottage gardens and still used today.


Foxglove

The Foxglove is a popular garden flower. In centuries past this beautiful plant was known by many different names:

  • Folks Glove
  • Dead Men's Bells
  • Fairy's Gloves
  • Fairy Thimbles
  • Fairy Caps
  • Dog's Finger
  • Lion's Mouth
  • Ladies Glove
  • Finger Flower

The name used today 'Foxglove' is thought to originate from 'Folks Glove' and the 'folks' referred to were of course the fairies who lived all over the countryside - in particular flowery glades and woodlands.

This flower is also one of the the traditional plants of the original cottage gardens. They were used primarily for their medicinal purposes and were believed to help with ailments such as heart problems.

Today of course we know that the species of Foxglove known as 'Digitalis purpurea' and 'Digitalis lantana' are used to manufacture the heart medication 'Digoxin'.

In 1775 a Dr. Withering heard about a 'wisewoman' who used the Foxglove for cases of 'dropsy'. Basically 'dropsy' was the name given to swelling of the lower limbs due to fluid retention in the body. Fluid retention occurs with many conditions in particular congestive heart failure. Although initially Dr Withering had poor results from his experiments, when he took advice from his friend Dr. Ash of Oxford, the tests became more promising.

What I find interesting however, is the fact of the poor, uneducated, village women and men having such indepth knowledge of nature, centuries before medical research took an interest.

Colombine

This is another flower that was well known to the 'wise woman' of the villages in centuries past. It's scientific name is 'Aquilegia' that comes from the Latin 'Aquila' which means eagle. This was because the spurs of the flowers were thought to resemble the talons of this bird of prey.

The name 'colombine' comes from the Latin word 'Columba' meaning 'dove'. It also had a name dervied from the Saxon language called 'culver' meaning 'pigeon'. Other names that the Colombine had were:

  • Grannys' Bonnets
  • Culverwort

One of its grim uses - although it has not been proven scientifically - was to abort pregnancies. This might be the reason that, symbolically, the flower is thought to signify 'lost love' or 'folly'. It's believed that the seeds were mixed with a specific portion of wine in order to make the potent mixture that would cause a miscarriage.


It was of course used for many other purposes as well. As early as 1580 Colombine was mentioned by a gentleman called Tusser and he described the suitability of this flower for growing in pots and window boxes. In the 17th century, an author named Parkinson, referred to many different species of the flower being grown in gardens.

The Colombine was grown for many reasons - other than a potion to induce miscarriage. The root was believed to be very good for both easing the pain of kidney stones and flushing out the stone. In addition, the leaves, when made into a lotion, were believed to be good for any ailment that caused a sore mouth or throat. Taking a mixture of some Saffron, wine and mixing these with a little of the Colombine seeds was thought to be a cure for any obstruction of the liver and yellow jaundice.

Lavender

This very old traditional herb is of course not just found in cottage gardens. Lavender has been used for hundreds of years for various purposes. Today it's used for anything from shower gel to insect repellant. In fact to list all the ways that Lavender can be used would require a book - and many good ones can be found on the market. Lavender is also well known - as it was in the past - as a relaxant and promoting a good night's sleep.

The folklore of lavender is also filled with intrigue and mystery. It has strong associations with the old 'healing arts' and in places such as Tuscany it was used for protection against the evil eye. In many countries lavender was burned on certain saints' days as this was believed to ward off evil spirits and demons.

Ladies of the night also used Lavender as a protection against violence or robbery from clients. Interestingly, they also wore lavender perfume to attract customers in the first place.

Young ladies in centuries past would sip potion made up from lavender that would induce a dream, giving her details of the man she would marry. The young men also used lavender - tucked under their pillow - as this would give them courage to ask for their lady's hand in marriage.

Lavender was also believed by many to give some protection against the plague - scientifically of course this can't be verified. Although it's interesting that one of the alternative names for Lavender - ''Four Thieves Vinegar' is believed to have come from a group of thieves who robbed the houses of plague victims, but they themselves never caught the disease.They maintained that they were protected by a potion that contained lavender and other ingredients and agreed to divulge the recipe in return for their freedom.

There are several alternatives to this story and whether any have a basis in fact is unclear. What is fascinating from our modern research is that there are a number of companies working on a similar product to the 'Four Thieves Vinegar' as it could have strong anti-bacterial properties.


It would seem that our ancestors not only loved flowers as much as we do today, but somehow they also gained a deeper knowledge of their various uses. When you next see a cottage garden or pass any of the flowers mentioned, as well as admiring their colour and fragance, take time to remember their history and the folklore surrounding them.

The beautiful cottage garden at Hidcote Manor.
The beautiful cottage garden at Hidcote Manor. | Source

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Comments 34 comments

tobusiness profile image

tobusiness 3 years ago from Bedfordshire, U.K

Great hub, beautiful images, I've always loved this style of garden, there is something so special about an English Cottage Garden. I didn't know that the Fox glove or Digitalis had so many names!!.. A very important medicinal plant. Voting up and sharing


moneyfairy profile image

moneyfairy 3 years ago

Great Hub. I love English gardens,such beautiful photos. Thank you for sharing these. I can almost smell the lavender ...mmmm :o)


Vickiw 3 years ago

I loved this Hub! The pictures to go with all your wonderful facts are so spot on for relevance, and give such information about the garden appearance. I recently moved, and one of the things I am happy about is that I inherited a beautiful garden of this type! Good writing!


ChitrangadaSharan profile image

ChitrangadaSharan 3 years ago from New Delhi, India

Very beautiful and informative hub!

I learnt a lot about the flowers and cottage gardens from this hub. Really today's busy and hectic lifestyle does not give us enough time to appreciate the beauty of nature.

Fascinating hub with lovely pictures! Voted up and thanks for sharing!


Frank Atanacio profile image

Frank Atanacio 3 years ago from Shelton

so much here Seeker, also a way to create a piece of heaven's garden on earth.. I love the way you set this hub up.. clever.. informative and entertaining voted up


Seeker7 profile image

Seeker7 3 years ago from Fife, Scotland Author

Hi tobusiness, many thanks for stopping by and I'm glad you enjoyed the hub. I agree, the cottage garden just has something about it that makes me feel so relaxed and happy. Whether its the colour and scents or just the lay out, I'm not sure, but I never get tired of visiting or looking at photographs of them.


Seeker7 profile image

Seeker7 3 years ago from Fife, Scotland Author

Hi moneyfairy, many thanks for stopping by and glad you enjoyed the hub!


Seeker7 profile image

Seeker7 3 years ago from Fife, Scotland Author

Hi Vickiw, many thanks for stopping by and glad you enjoyed the hub. Oh that's great that you have your own cottage garden - how wonderful! I never get tired of visiting or looking at photographs of these type of gardens, they are just a sheer joy!


Seeker7 profile image

Seeker7 3 years ago from Fife, Scotland Author

Hi ChitrangadaSharan, lovely to hear from you as always!

I'm glad that you enjoyed the hub and yes, I totally agree with you, these gardens are such a haven from the stress and turmoil of modern life, a beautiful way to get back to nature!


Seeker7 profile image

Seeker7 3 years ago from Fife, Scotland Author

Hi Frank, it's always a great pleasure to hear from you and glad you enjoyed the hub.

Yes, they are a great way to get away from modern life for a while. I have a nursing colleage who now lives in London with her husband. They are in a very nice area of London, but it's very busy. They have made their own cottage garden at the back of the house and it's stunning. As she says, this is her way of relaxing and getting away from the stress of city.


Sharkye11 profile image

Sharkye11 3 years ago from Oklahoma

I love this hub. The cottage gardens look so cool and inviting. Tons of places to hide out and read a book while surrounded by fragrant flowers and herbs.

Too bad we can't grow gardens like that here in OK. Even with my flower beds that are small and allowed to be a little overgrown we have a large amount of snakes and spiders that are attracted to the shady foliage.

Love the cottage gardens, but safety first. Still enjoy touring them through photos. Thanks for sharing this hub!


Good Guy profile image

Good Guy 3 years ago from Malaysia

Interesting hub. I like gardening. In our tropical country, flowers in our garden are not that fascinating in that we don't have the 4 seasons. I always wonder why they give flowers with tongue-twister names.

Vote up.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

I loved reading about cottage gardens and medicinal plants in this very interesting hub, Helen. The photos are lovely, too!


Elias Zanetti profile image

Elias Zanetti 3 years ago from Athens, Greece

Great hub and lovely pictures. Voted and shared!


Eiddwen profile image

Eiddwen 3 years ago from Wales

Seeker7 this is a masterpiece ; I loved it all and vote up without a doubt. Here's wishing you a wonderful day also.

Eddy.


cat on a soapbox profile image

cat on a soapbox 3 years ago from Los Angeles

I really enjoyed reading your interesting facts about the origins of the cottage garden- especially the folklore of flowers. I never knew "Aquilegia" referred to the eagle talon -like hooks on the tips of columbine. Thank you!

:) Cat


grandmapearl profile image

grandmapearl 3 years ago from Southern Tier New York State

Seeker, my cottage garden is designed to serve the wildlife in my woodsy backyard. I love to see the birds, butterflies and all the insects flying around the flowers and herbs.

I also use the herbs for cooking and aroma.

Loved this article and voted Up+++ Beautiful images ;) Pearl


Seeker7 profile image

Seeker7 3 years ago from Fife, Scotland Author

Hi Sharkye11, many thanks for stopping by and glad you enjoyed the hub. Yes, I love cottage gardens and the best ones do have great secret places to hide. I would be like you though, if the UK had lots of snakes and spiders that were very venomous, we only have the wee Adder, and for the most part stay out in the wild and are quite timid of people, thankfully!

Many thanks again for stopping by!


Seeker7 profile image

Seeker7 3 years ago from Fife, Scotland Author

Hi Good Guy, many thanks for stopping by and glad you enjoyed the hub. I found that interesting about the flowers in your own garden in Malaysia. Although you might not have the four seasons, you still have a very beautiful country and your wildlife is stunning!


Seeker7 profile image

Seeker7 3 years ago from Fife, Scotland Author

Hi Alicia, always lovely to hear from you - I'll be popping over to your hubs soon. I'm catching up with my reading now and hate to miss out on good hubs!

Glad you enjoyed the hub and theh photos!!


Seeker7 profile image

Seeker7 3 years ago from Fife, Scotland Author

Hi Elias Zanetti, many thanks for stopping by and glad you enjoyed the hub!


Seeker7 profile image

Seeker7 3 years ago from Fife, Scotland Author

Hi Eddy, lovely to hear from you and awww thanks for the smashing comment!! Have a nice day and a great weekend!


Seeker7 profile image

Seeker7 3 years ago from Fife, Scotland Author

Hi cat on a soapbox, many thanks for stopping by and glad you enjoyed the hub.

The folklore and names of flowers are always really interesting. I think it gives us a better insight into ordinary people when know their feelings and beliefs about everyday things. And yes, the Aquilegia was a surprise to me as well!


Seeker7 profile image

Seeker7 3 years ago from Fife, Scotland Author

Hi Pearl, lovely to hear from you and your garden sounds awesome!! Any garden that attracts wildlife are always fascinating and full of wonder and herbs are not only useful but some of the most beautiful plants on the planet are herbs!

Your a very wonderful lady and it's a pleasure to know you!!


ButterflyWings profile image

ButterflyWings 3 years ago

Neat article. I thought I'd let you know that Bulkherbstore.com sells an effective Vinegar of the Four Thieves mixture, useful for many things, including illness. Yes, I have firsthand experience with the mixture, which is easy to make yourself, and I love having it around for everything from bug repellant to a house cleaner which helps to repell pests and germs, etc.


Seeker7 profile image

Seeker7 3 years ago from Fife, Scotland Author

Hi ButterflyWings, many thanks for stopping by and sorry for the delay in getting back to you - was away for the weekend.

That's really interesting about the Vinegar mixture. I haven't actually tried it myself but will definitely get some and thanks for the info to the website!


WiccanSage profile image

WiccanSage 3 years ago

I love cottage gardens so much, s is such a beautiful hub. Great work.


Seeker7 profile image

Seeker7 3 years ago from Fife, Scotland Author

Hi WiccanSage, thank you once again for your visit and your lovely comment!


precy anza profile image

precy anza 3 years ago from San Diego

Would love to have a cottage garden, with all the scented and beautiful flowers. Maybe someday,as our small place won't allow it. For now, I'll just enjoy looking at the photos. :) Up and shared!


Seeker7 profile image

Seeker7 3 years ago from Fife, Scotland Author

Hi precy anza many thanks for stopping by and here's hoping that you will one day have a beautiful cottage garden.


Tamara14 profile image

Tamara14 2 years ago from Zagreb, Croatia, Europe

Ah, one day maybe I will have one of my own. In the meantime this was as I said above - beautiful and interesting :) Thank you.


Seeker7 profile image

Seeker7 2 years ago from Fife, Scotland Author

HI Tamara and many thanks for stopping by. Sorry about taking so long to reply, I'm afraid I haven't been around hub pages for a while. Glad you enjoyed the hub.


Chantelle Porter profile image

Chantelle Porter 14 months ago from Chicago

Very beautiful hub. I loved it.


Seeker7 profile image

Seeker7 14 months ago from Fife, Scotland Author

Hello Chantelle Porter, many thanks for stopping by and glad you enjoyed the hub.

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